December Reading Thread

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The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Nov 10, 2008
nearly the New Forest
General decorating upheaval has meant little time and inclination for reading for me over the last few weeks. However, I have picked up a copy of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, so I might be starting that soon, if only I can circumvent the Christmas busyness!

What are you reading this festive month?
Now reading
Is this one of our Chrons writers? I didn't know! What's his handle in here?
I'll give a review - I'm enjoying it a lot so far.
Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580 by Roger Crowley.
A compelling, compact but comprehensive overview of the 16th century trials and tribulations that make up the naval wars between the Spanish Habsburg Emperor, the Knights of Saint John (Knights Hospitaller), the Ottoman Empire with the Barbary Coast Corsairs, and prevaricating Venice. What is continually highlighted is the exceptional organization and access to money/resources available to the vast Ottoman state as opposed to the squabbling and differing goals of the myriad different states (and the papacy) in Europe. While Crowley mentions the many activities of piracy, raiding, slaving, the Ottoman conquests and victories of Rhodes (1522), Preveza, Tunis and Cyprus, not to mention the diplomatic relations going on at the time; his main focus is the siege of Malta (1565) and the sea battle of Lepanto (1571). The 16th century Mediterranean was a particularly brutal and bloody place to be, especially if you were stuck on any of the naval vessels or in one of the sieges. The historical narrative reads very much like an adventure story, with fascinating and interesting characters, nail-biting battle scenes where the outcome is uncertain, and heart-wrenching outcomes.​
Currently reading The Stoneground Ghost Tales by E. G. Swain. Swain was a contemporary and friend of M. R. James and this book is dedicated to James. Though the first story, "The Man with the Roller," seems indebted to "The Mezzotint," Swain is a kinder, gentler ghost story teller. Set in the village of Stoneground, the 3rd person narrator of the stories focuses on the experiences of the vicar, Mr. Batchel. For a taste of the narrator's voice and perspective,

... [Richpin's] way of resenting injury was to complain of it to the next person he met, and such complaints as he found no other means of discharging, he carried home to his wife, who treated his conversation just as she treated the singing of the canary, and other domestic sounds, being hardly conscious of it until it ceased.

Charming reading for this time of year.
I read Jodi Talyor's Just One Damned Thing After Another, the first book in her Chronicles of St Mary's series. I thought it was a very quick book to read, it's definitely a page turner and goes through events at a fast pace. I thought Maxwell was an entertaining protagonist to follow, although sometimes a bit exasperating because she does make some terrible decisions at times. For a book about time travelling historians it didn't spend as much time in the past as I might have expected but maybe that will happen more in the later books in the series now that the premise has been established. Out of the various time jumps I think the one back to the Cretaceous did the best job of conveying a sense of wonder about being able to travel to the past.

I think there were some plot holes, even if you avoid trying to think too hard about the details of how the time travel works. The way St Mary's is set up doesn't make much sense, to some extent this is a plot point so things can be improved but it would still have helped if it was a bit more believable to begin with. The passage of time is also confusing, at one point Maxwell explains she has been at St Mary's for five years even though it feels like she has only completed her training recently.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book to read despite some plot issues and I will pick up the second book at some point.

I've now moved onto Roger Zelazny's A Night In The Lonesome October. I have heard a lot of praise for this and it has been good so far. I didn't know a huge amount about it beforehand so I was a bit surprised to find it was narrated by an admittedly very articulate dog.
Finished up Green Rider and quite enjoyed it. It wasn't perfect, but it was a very fun take on fantasy with a protagonist who managed to be both capable and vulnerable at various points. While it felt like a complete story on its own, there are obvious ways of continuation which Kristen Britain clearly embraced (she's written seven more books in this series, after all).

That said, I'll be jumping into Summer of Night next. After half a dozen fantasy novels in a row, something with more of a horror focus seems like it would be a good change of pace.
Listened to the audiobook of Making It So: A Memoir by Patrick Stewart
Any good, IYO? Being able to act exceptionally well does not necessarily make you a good writer. ;)
I don't know about the writing, but listening to Stewart read his own book probably made the difference for me.
He spends about 60% of the book on his early stage acting career, prattling off names of famous actors (I really don't watch movies/TV/plays so the names went over my head), and the rest on his movie/TV acting career (I could have done with more Star Trek since I have actually watched some of that and know who the people are), and a bit about his failed marriages and his current marriage, growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father in a Victorian house (i.e. no indoor plumbing), and his school years and what lead to the acting career. There isn't that much about his relationship with his kids and grandkids - they barely get mentioned (I assume this is for privacy, and because their lives are none of our business?). I enjoyed it, and found it interesting, but glad I didn't buy it since I'm probably not going to re-read/listen to it again.

Listening to Patrick Stewart made the laborious job of making 22 batches of bloody Christmas cookies more bearable (yeah - I'm the Grinch and Scrooge all rolled into one).
Just finished The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.
A well written fantasy and well received debut. It was refreshing to read fantasy that is not based on Medieval Europe, but more like early 20th century China. The world-building is perhaps a bit meagre on some fronts.
It is grimdark, especially the last part of the book. Not what I am looking for in a novel, but I must say I appreciated this one. But the bleak outlook at the end, which predicts an even more grim and dark tale in the second book of this trilogy, (not to mention the third) made me decide to leave it at that.

What's next than? Either Claire North's Ithaca or a reread of Gene Wolfe's Latro books. Or something completely different aka non-fiction, a history of how the Dutch landscape and infrastructure came about since the 1800's.
I adored Dogs of War, Vince and i'm excited to read what you think of it.
I don't know about the writing, but listening to Stewart read his own book probably made the difference for me.

Listening to Patrick Stewart made the laborious job of making 22 batches of bloody Christmas cookies more bearable (yeah - I'm the Grinch and Scrooge all rolled into one).
Thanks for the review. I'm interested in hearing a bit more about his personal life because he has always been so reticent about that. But -like you- am much leas interested in his life on stage. OTOH partner was lucky enough to see Stewart live once and said the acting was so good he'd been able to forget it was Stewart. Always think that's an excellent yardstick.

I understand about the cookies. Why do we do this to ourselves? I'm sure one can buy them :D yet you always have to make 'em by hand. Here in the UK it's mince pies!
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